Reid Singer, writing for Outside Online, said recently (The Outdoor Industry Will Decide the Next Election) that the growing power of the outdoor industry was starting to influence national land politics in the USA.
“Not so long ago, the outdoor industry had essentially zero influence in state and national politics. Though individual companies played a role in conservation campaigns and other causes, there was little collective muscle to push issues … the way, say, Big Oil can fight against higher fuel-efficiency standards in cars”.
(The lack of influence has) “started to change in recent years, thanks to two developments. First, in 2006, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) began publishing an annual report detailing the massive impact of recreation on the U.S. economy, now responsible for $646 billion in annual consumer spending (twice what Americans spend on pharmaceuticals) and 6.1 million jobs (a big enough number that recently proposed legislation could require the Commerce Department to start tracking it). Second, in 2013, Sally Jewell, then CEO of REI, became secretary of the interior, instantly guaranteeing that recreation would be a part of every major discussion about the use of federal public lands”.
The election of a president with a strong anti environment agenda has forced the outdoor industry into the fray. For instance, more than 350 USA based companies lobbied President Trump over his plans to reduce protection to iconic and much loved landscapes across the USA. These included many well known brands that sell into the Australian market, including Columbia, Arc’teryx, Rab, Patagonia, Osprey, Outdoor Research, and Black Diamond.
“What we have to do as an industry,” said Peter Metcalf, the founder and recently retired CEO of the climbing company Black Diamond Equipment, “is organize in the same way that the NRA and the right-to-lifers have, and make public lands a primary, binary voting issue.”
The outdoor industry, like many others, is confronting the reality that under Trump, US consumers are looking more and more to brands to take a stand.
There has also been some heartening work around climate change advocacy.
This of course is good news. With wild lands under ever greater threat, it is essential that recreationists defend these places. It makes sense that the brands that make profit off the outdoor community also step up to the plate. As always, it’s interesting to reflect on the lack of action amongst outdoor brands in Australia.
The local distributers of these international brands are generally less vocal or involved in environmental advocacy. The obvious exception is Patagonia, who have a grants program for advocacy-based environmental organisations and involvement in a high profile campaign to protect the takayna /Tarkine area of western Tasmania.
Paddy Pallin, via it’s Foundation, supports conservation works and scientific research. It was one of the few Australian outdoor brands that went public in support of a call for the federal government to adopt a strong position on climate change. Bogong Equipment, based in Melbourne, also took action to lobby the federal government on climate change. But where are the other brands?
Yes, its hard days in retail and businesses and brands need to survive. But advocacy doesn’t have to cost much. Its about using some nous, showing a bit of courage, and getting public in demanding action for the environment. Climate change poses an existential threat to our wild places. It’s very hard to see why more brands – who rely on a vibrant outdoor community to be commercially viable – aren’t investing in their future by supporting environmental activism and putting their name out there and backing climate and environmental advocacy.